Adhering to a Mediterranean diet cuts the risk of depression by reducing inflammation in the body, according to new research. An international study found that people who eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish and plant-based foods had a 33 per cent smaller chance of suffering from the mental condition compared to those with who did not.
Scientists at University College London said the research shows the link between the gut and mental health, and in particular the role of inflammation, is far more significant than previously understood.
They reviewed data from 41 previous studies comprising tens of thousands of participants.
People who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet had a third lower risk of developing depression over the next eight to 12 years, the study found, compared to those whose diet least resembled adhered.
Analysis focusing on saturated fat, sugar and processed food also showed that a diet low in these factors was linked to a 24 per cent reduced risk of developing depression within five to 12 years.
Dr Camille Lassale, who led the research, said: "There is compelling evidence to show that there is a relationship between the quality of your diet and your mental health.
"A pro-inflammatory diet can induce systemic inflammation, and this can directly increase the risk for depression.
"We aggregated results from a large number of studies and there is a clear pattern that following a healthier, plant-rich, anti-inflammatory diet can help in the prevention of depression.
"There is also emerging evidence that shows that the relationship between the gut and brain plays a key role in mental health and that this axis is modulated by gastrointestinal bacteria, which can be modified by our diet."
“Our study findings support routine dietary counselling as part of a doctor's office visit, especially with mental health practitioners.”
Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies
Camille Lassale, G. David Batty, Amaria Baghdadli, Felice Jacka, Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, Mika Kivimäki & Tasnime Akbaraly
Molecular Psychiatry (2018)